Hometown: Arlington. Now based in Montreal.
Think of: Culbert-Olds left home in 2010 to pursue a professional career in circus performance art, enrolling in a renowned Montreal school — like “Fame,” except the students are lion-tamers, jugglers, contortionists, and trapeze artists.
What caught our eye: Culbert-Olds is now an accomplished aerialist. She is back on home turf with the company she cofounded, Frequently Asked Questions, to perform for sold-out crowds at the Arlington Center for the Arts on Aug. 19-20.
Light-bulb moment: “I caught the circus bug watching ‘Zoom’ on PBS. I saw kids doing circus acts, and I ran to my parents and told them I wanted to get into it. So we looked up a circus summer camp and I went the next summer. Since then, it’s been a gradual realization that this could be a career. I tried a year at college and knew I wanted to make performing happen. College I could do later, but I had to do circus now, while I’m young.”
Biggest thrill: “Every time we perform, we are taking a risk — the risk that we fall, of course, but also the risk that the audience doesn’t enjoy it, or we disappoint ourselves in some way. This gives us adrenaline though, and nothing beats the thrill of finishing a number or a show, and feeling both that vulnerability and the success.”
Biggest surprise: The circus isn’t actually full of freaks. “Once you become a part of this world, it becomes normal. You think of circus and you think it must be crazy. We’re just regular people, but instead of the office we go to the circus.”
Inspired by: “I really admire first-generation performers who, like us, haven’t grown up in a circus family, but have been able to break into it and make their own families. I have old and current coaches who got into performing on their own and now have spouses and children who they have introduced to the circus and are now performers.”
Aspires to: The goal of her company, Frequently Asked Questions, “is to promote circus culture in the US. My partner [Kia Melinda Eastman] and I hope to continue performing and to join a traveling circus while we’re young and have the time and energy to do it.”
For good luck: “I met my partner at Circus Smirkus. A tradition is you have a handshake that you do before performances for luck. Since we’ve been together for five years, our handshake has become like a five-minute routine. We always do it before the first time we run a number.”
What people should know: “I’m a very shy person. When I was little, I’d hide behind my mom at parties and wouldn’t talk to servers at restaurants. After my first summer with Circus Smirkus, my parents and friends saw a huge change. As a performer, you have to meet new people and be able to put yourself out there.”
Coming soon: Culbert-Olds will be performing with Frequently Asked Questions on Aug. 21 in New York City’s Marcus Garvey Park as part of the International Contemporary Circus Festival.